20. Pontiac Trans Am Special Edition
The late ’70s were sad times for muscle cars. All the available models had diminutive horsepower ratings and heavy bodies that made their performance embarrassingly slow. The Firebird/Trans Am range could not escape this, as well. However, Pontiac still managed to produce some memorable cars through its Special Edition models. They simply dressed up the Trans Am to transform it into a street icon.
The main model was the Trans Am they equipped either with a 4.9-liter turbo engine or 400 NA V8. However, neither of those power plants produced more than 220 HP during the 1977 to 1981 production run. The main aspect was the design with its signature graphics and appearance package. Affectionately called the “Screaming Chicken,” due to a highly stylized flaming bird logo on the hood, it was extraordinarily modern and hip by standards of the day.
It started as a relatively small sticker in the middle of the hood in the early ’70s, only to grow to a big sticker covering the entire hood. Soon, it found its way to the B pillars, rear end, and front fenders. The 1977/78 Firebird Trans Am gained international fame by appearing in the cult movie, Smokey and the Bandit. That helped triple the sales numbers, turning the Trans Am into a movie legend, as well as a muscle car icon.
19. Chevrolet Suburban
An interesting thing about the Suburban is that it was the longest-serving nameplate in car history. Chevrolet presented the first model under this name in 1935. Right from the start, the Suburban defined itself as a people carrier in a body style that was closer to a minivan than a regular wagon or SUV.
During the ’50s and ’60s, the Suburban moved to a truck platform. It also benefited from advanced construction, a tough suspension, and a long list of engines and options. At the same time, Chevrolet started providing an all-wheel-drive option for its truck line. That meant buyers could order a Suburban with AWD drive, as well.
That was the moment when the Suburban became an off-road model. The all-wheel-drive option was popular during later generations. It became an almost mandatory option for the famous and long-serving seventh-generation they introduced in 1973 and discontinued in 1991. Today, the Suburban is still a large SUV and popular as ever.
18. Chevrolet “Tri-Five”
The everlasting battle between Ford and Chevrolet for supremacy in the medium-priced market happened at the height of the mid-50s. That was when Chevrolet presented the legendary “Tri-Five” series. Those cars got that nickname later when they produced this body style for three years, 1955, 1956 and 1957. When people started calling them “Tri-Five,” the name stuck.
One of the biggest features of the iconic Tri-Five series is the availability of the legendary Chevrolet Small Block V8 engine. It brought power to the masses and gave those â55 to â57 Chevrolets some serious performance to go with the everlasting style and chrome fins. Although the ’55 to ’57 Chevrolets weren’t a huge market success as GM had hoped, today, this car is one of the symbols of GM’s best period.
17. Cadillac CTS-V
For years, GM was without a proper performance series to compete with BMW or Mercedes but finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of with its powerful engines, world-class handling, suspension setup, and exclusive production. Even the competitors took notice when Cadillac rolled up with the new V-Series model.
Arguably the most successful was the second-generation CTS-V model they produced between 2008 and 2014. Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 producing 556 HP, making the CTS-V the most powerful performance sedan on the market. The suspension and the rest of the drivetrain were advanced and up to the task, so the CTS-V was a full package and one of the best driver’s cars available.
Cadillac produced three body styles. The CTS-V could be had as a sedan, a coupe, and interestingly, as a wagon, too. With a 556 HP LS9 V8 engine and 0 to 60 mph time of just 3.8 seconds, the second-generation CTS-V was one of the fastest four-door vehicles on the planet, making it a true muscle car sedan.
16. GMC Jimmy
Back in 1969, GM was caught off guard with the success of the Ford Bronco, Jeep CJ, and International Harvester Scout. Simply, the market wanted small, good-looking, and capable off-road SUVs, but GM didn’t have any in its model lineup. Soon, the Chevrolet/GMC engineers thought of the brilliant idea to use their existing pickup truck.
They wanted to mount a full interior and roof and call it the Blazer or GMC Jimmy. With the Jimmy, Chevrolet/GMC fans had a new SUV model with bigger dimensions than the competitors, but also bigger engines under the hood. At first, all-wheel drive was only an option and some versions even came with rear-wheel drive only, but soon AWD became standard.
The Blazer/Jimmy became popular and even the U.S. military used it. It sold well in America, as well as the rest of the world, especially with a 6.2-liter diesel V8 engine. The Blazer was so popular, the second generation stayed in production from 1973 to 1991 with minimal modifications.
15. Buick Riviera
Back in the early ’60s, Buick had some tough times on the market. It seemed like the combination of affordable luxury and elegant styling was not interesting to car buyers. Sales were declining, so GM knew Buick needed help, but not in the engineering department as much as in the marketing department. The answer was logical. Introduce an upscale, modern luxury model to draw people back into Buick showrooms.
GM expected Cadillac to introduce a flagship coupe, but since Buick needed help and Cadillac was doing well, Buick was green-lighted for the development of the Riviera. They based on a successful concept car they called the Silver Arrow. The production model debuted in 1963 and immediately, it became a sales hit and one of the best cars of the early ’60s.
The Riviera was built on a special frame and chassis not shared with other GM products. It had an advanced and sophisticated design and an interior with a central console that was unheard of at the time. The power came from a Buick 425 Wildcat engine. Despite the good looks, the Rivera delivered performance, especially in GS trim. The Buick Riviera became one of the best GM personal luxury cars ever, staying in production until 1999.
14. Chevrolet Caprice Wagon
The popularity of the station wagon started to drop in the late ’70s, along with the economic recession and fuel crisis. The big and thirsty long roofs weren’t rational transportation anymore so car buyers turned to smaller cars and foreign models. However, one of the models that kept its fan base was the Caprice Wagon.
Chevrolet produced it from 1977 to 1990 with minimal changes. This was one of the last classic boxy American station wagons ever. It featured room for nine passengers. The Caprice Wagon came with simple but durable mechanics and buyers could get it with numerous extras.
Despite the appearance of the minivan in the early ’80s, with its rising popularity, better fuel efficiency, and better price, the Caprice Wagon kept on selling. It even became one of the symbols of the ’80s American suburbia lifestyle.
13. Chevrolet Camaro SS 350
In the late ’60s, horsepower wars were in full swing. Chevrolet prepared the Camaro for the battle with new Z/28 and SS models. The SS 396 was a top of the line muscle model delivering 325 HP in earlier versions and up to 375 HP for 1969. But, the best balanced and almost equally fast was the SS 350 model. The SS 350 was a popular model they equipped with all Chevrolet’s “go fast” goodies, including the venerable 350 CID V8 engine producing 300 HP.
With racing stripes and a wild graphics package, optional vinyl roof, and lots of extras, the SS 350 was one of the best pony cars around. It came with lively performance numbers, good handling, and perfect looks. Today, it is one of the most desirable classic Camaros and a highly sought after piece of Chevrolet history.
12. GMC Syclone
In the 1980s, GM experimented with turbocharged engines, which was in sync with industry trends back then. GM took an ordinary S10 bodyshell and installed a 4.3-liter V6 with a turbocharger producing 280 HP. They also used a special four-speed automatic they sourced from a Corvette and a performance-based all-wheel drive.
Although the power figures may not be impressive these days, the Syclone was able to sprint to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds. This made it faster than contemporary Ferraris. The key was its light weight, small dimensions, and torque from the turbocharged engine. Because the price was significantly higher than the regular model, GMC built less than 3,000 of them. Also, most of them come in the signature black color.
11. Chevrolet El Camino
In 1957, Ford introduced the Ranchero, a half car half-truck they built with a passenger car chassis and design. It was an interesting alternative to a regular truck since it offered the decent payload of a truck and the drivability and size of a standard car. Chevrolet was caught by surprise, so they didn’t have a ready answer to this model. The Ranchero became relatively popular, so Chevy needed something to fight Ford. The answer came in 1959 with the El Camino.
They built this beautiful truck on an Impala frame. It featured the same looks, engine, and cabin. Immediately, it was well-received by car customers since it offered the goodies of Chevrolet’s main passenger lineup with a half-ton capacity. The El Camino was even more upscale than the Ranchero. It featured a better option list as well as more powerful engines. The straight-six was standard, but many customers optioned for the V8. The production lasted until 1986.
10. 1990 Corvette ZR1
The Chevrolet engineers knew the C4 chassis had enormous potential. So, they always looked for ways to improve their power and performance. And finally, they got the green light from management to introduce the best Corvette model in years. They wanted to show the sports car world what the Corvette was capable of. And, in 1990, they presented the mighty ZR-1 with 400 HP and performance numbers that could beat any Ferrari at the moment.
They named it the “King of the Hill,” and the Corvette ZR1 was exactly that. It was the king of all Corvettes they made up to 1990 when they unveiled the ZR1. And immediately, it was obvious that Chevrolet hit a home run. Under the hood was an LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine with 375 HP, and later 400 HP.
Also, it had quad-cam heads and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well. With the beefed-up suspension, gearbox, and extra-wide rear tires, the Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. And that made it one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic today.
9. Cadillac Seville
The 1975 Seville was shocking to Cadillac purists as the first downsized Caddy ever. It was an affordable luxury car, an extremely smart move by the company. In fact, the Seville is one of the best U.S. sedans of the late ’70s. The 1970-77 period was marked by big land yachts and heavy cruisers.
However, Cadillac realized the market had turned to nimbler, more precise foreign cars, such as the Mercedes W116 S Class. The company decided to introduce a smaller, more modern car every bit a Cadillac so the market would accept it as such.
The 1975 Seville was the perfect car for the time. Sales went beyond expectations. The Seville was elegant, perfectly-sized, and reasonably powerful. Also, it came with a long list of options and trim choices, including an interesting Slantback body style. Customers could even get a Gucci-themed trim package. This will go down as a model when Cadillac gambled with their sedans and won.
8. Chevrolet SS
Unfortunately, the Chevrolet SS is out of production but dealers have enough unsold cars that you can buy one right now. And you should do that since the SS is one of the best affordable performance sedans on the market today. With a 6.2-liter V8, 412 hp, precise steering, and neutral handling, this car rivals Europe’s finest sports sedans. Of course, this is a Holden from Australia they rebadged as a Chevrolet and fine-tuned for U.S. customers.
Performance numbers are very respectable. A 0 to 60 mph sprint is possible in just 4.7 seconds, while the top speed is over 150 mph. Chevrolet SS is a good proposition for people who need a practical sedan but want a sports car. The styling is elegant and unassuming, which is a good thing since this car can surprise many regular sports models with its performance.
This is one of the best sleepers on the market since it blends in with traffic. Nobody can tell you have 400 HP under your right foot ready to jump at a second’s notice. The Chevrolet SS is destined to be a future classic, so grab one today.
7. Chevrolet C/K Pickup
Back in the day, basic pickup construction was extremely simple. It included a ladder chassis, live axles on both ends, and rear-wheel drive. However, with the introduction of the Willys Jeep Pickup, the truck market got its first four-wheel-drive model. After that, four-wheel-drive was something all the car manufacturers later accepted.
The truck manufacturers of the ’50s only concentrated on trucks that could haul heavy, large items. But in 1960, Chevrolet introduced an all-new model they called the C/K. They produced it in various trim lines. The “C” in “C/K” meant it had rear-wheel drive, and the “K” stood for four-wheel drive.
These trucks proved to be a sales hit, but they had one interesting aspect first. The 1960 Chevrolet C/K had an independent front suspension, which replaced the old and rugged live front axle. The “C” models with rear-wheel drive got the independent front, but “K” models with 4×4 retained the live axle.
Today, all trucks have this type of suspension, but in 1960, Chevrolet was the first. The advantages of this were numerous. First, the truck handled like a passenger car and was much more pleasurable to drive, the steering was easy and precise, and driving a truck on rough terrain was not a punishment but an enjoyable experience.
6. Buick GNX
The story of this model is an interesting one. Back in 1982, Buick started experimenting with turbocharging its line of standard V6 engines. The results were satisfying, so the Buick engineers got permission to develop a performance version that would deliver better acceleration figures.
Soon, there was the Buick Gran National with 175 HP, which wasn`t impressive, but it was a start. However, in the next couple of years, the Gran National got a bigger engine and more power. This made it go from 175 HP to 200 HP, and finally to 235 HP. With those numbers came acceleration times of less than six seconds, making those black Gran Nationals seriously quick cars.
But in 1987 came the ultimate version they called the GNX, or Gran National Experimental. It featured the same 3.8-liter turbocharged V6, but with 275 HP and 0 to 60 mph times of 4.7 seconds. Nobody expected such a bold move from Buick. After all, Buick was a company for old people producing cars without any excitement.
And suddenly, there was a turbocharged V6 coupe that broke every classic muscle car mold out there. And, it was even faster than a Ferrari. At that moment, the Buick GNX was the fastest accelerating production model in the world. But at $29,000 it wasn’t exactly budget-friendly. However, legend says some owners paid for their cars just by street racing them for money.
5. 1983 Pontiac Fiero
The story of the Fiero is one of the greatest “what if” tales of the American car industry. This compact sports car caused a big sensation when they introduced it in the early ’80s. Everybody expected another GTO from Pontiac. But in fact, they got a small sports car that was something the Italians would build. It was a bold move for Pontiac to introduce a compact, rear-wheel drive car with the engine positioned in the center of the car.
They even paired it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox. By the standards of the day, this was the most advanced American production model ever. The customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero. And with its cool and modern design and advanced technology, the initial response was exciting. So, in 1983 the sales figures were over 130,000 cars.
Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t develop the Fiero, so the early models were badly put together. Also, the engine power was low, and the interior was cramped. So, GM responded by upgrading the car. By the end of the ’80s, the Fiero was a solid sports car with 150 HP coming from its 2.8-liter V6 engine and improvements all around.
But it was too late so GM killed the Fiero after the 1988 model year. Over the years, Fiero fans were active in promoting their favorite car, although it seems like everyone else has forgotten about this model.
4. Cadillac Escalade
Although Cadillac jumped on the luxury SUV bandwagon late in 1999 with the first-generation Escalade. However, it was just a rebadged Suburban. But soon, Caddy was one of the most dominant models in the market. The opulence of classic Cadillac cars easily transferred to the 21st century and luxury SUV segment.
Cadillac saw the opportunity, so they presented three generations of the biggest, most opulent luxury SUV models available. And the market went crazy for these apartment complexes on wheels. Although the Escalade was a rebadged Suburban, Cadillac managed to hide that with an enormous amount of luxury details. The Escalade is the perfect classic Cadillac in a modern interpretation for the next generation of luxury car buyers.
3. 1985-90 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
The third-generation Camaro was popular. But after a while, buyers wanted more performance and power. So Chevy delivered the legendary IROC-Z version in 1985. The IROC-Z was a tribute to the Chevy-sponsored International Race of Champions racing series.
However, it was much more than just an appearance package and a cool name. Under the hood was a 350 V8 with 225 HP and 245 HP in later versions. Buyers could opt for manual or automatic and tuned suspensions and steering. Chevrolet even offered a cool-looking convertible, the first Camaro ragtop in 18 years. The IROC-Z proved a popular and influential muscle car that finally brought some real performance to buyers.
2. Oldsmobile Jetfire
Unfortunately, the Oldsmobile Jetfire is important among American cars in auto history but never got the respect it deserved. This was the first turbocharged passenger car along with the Chevrolet Corvair Monza. However, the Oldsmobile system was more complex and powerful than the Chevrolet. Back in the early â60s, Oldsmobile was an innovative company. In those days, each GM division was in competition with the others. So, Oldsmobile chose turbocharging as the new technology to perfect.
By present standards, the Jetfire V8 was state-of-the-art technology so initially, the market was interested. The new V8 delivered 215 HP, making it one of the best performance cars of the day. It boasted a 0 to 60 mph time of around eight seconds, almost as fast as the Corvette.
Although people praised the power delivery of the new Jetfire, most owners forgot to fill up the Turbo Rocket Fuel tank, which caused a loss of power and eventually engine failure. Soon, the Jetfire had a bad reputation despite praises from automotive magazines. After just two years and around 10,000 units, Oldsmobile killed the car as well as its focus on turbocharging technology.
1. 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6
By the early 2000s, the Firebird/Camaro combo was outdated. The live rear axle and significant weight weren’t what the market wanted. They now demanded more modern and lighter muscle cars. The 2002 model year marked the end of the road for the Firebird. Pontiac decided to go out with a bang by introducing one of the best, fastest, and most potent Trans Ams they ever made: the menacing WS6 version.
The WS6 was a handling package on the Trans Am available before, but in the 2002 model year, it represented the best of what Pontiac had to offer with the venerable 5.7-liter V8 engine delivering 325 HP. With a six-speed manual transmission and numerous suspension upgrades, the 2002 WS6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
All that proved that Pontiac still knew how to make a brutal. lightning-quick muscle car. The exterior was dominated by a big Ram Air hood and sleek rear spoiler. All that made the Trans Am WS6 quite a looker despite having a 10-year-old design. If you can, pick one of these cars since they are definitive future muscle car classics.
These cars are the general’s greatest hits because they were innovative and offered consumers a big bang for the buck. Did you pick a favorite from this list of 30 of the best vehicles GM has ever made? If you want to buy one, you should hurry, since they are becoming more obscure and rare with each passing day.